Insurgency 101, Part One: Dare We Resist?

Some Americans hold that Christians should be high-tech crusaders against our foes overseas, but should flee like swallows from an eagle when it comes to rebellion against the U.S. Government. The doctrine of non-resistance to usurpation of power and to oppressive government runs fatally afoul of history, however, and contradicts the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas.

“A tyrannical regime is not just because it is not directed to the common good…. Consequently there is no sedition in disconcerting such a regime, unless … (the cure should be worse than the malady). Indeed it is the tyrant rather that is guilty of sedition, since he provokes discord and sedition among his subjects even as he seeks to assure his dominance.” (Summa Theologica , II 42)

“Obedience to secular rulers is obligatory insofar as the order of justice requires us to obey. Consequently, when any governor holds power not justly but rather by means of usurpation, or he issues unjust ordinances, then we have no duty to obey; except perchance to avoid scandal or peril.” (Summa Theologica , 2a2ae, question 104, article 6, 3rd reply)

Furthermore, in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (at 1028, cf. 1022), Aquinas argues that under the divine order it is wrong to submit to a lower authority in opposition to a higher authority, as a duke is not obeyed against a king. This means that the Federal Government “not be obeyed in opposition to” the higher power, i.e. the U.S. Constitution.

Under God the written Constitution is our king, (U.S. Constitution, Article VI). Therefore, where federal or local officials contradict the law above them, the “supreme Law of the Land,” they forfeit the right to submission from below. The flagrancy of this contradiction with respect to the Free Exercise of Religion Clause has alone filled volumes. A key objective of a counterrevolution, then, should be to reinforce the written Constitution and restore the scepter to our lex rex .

For Catholics confused by conflicting theological claims regarding revolution (or counterrevolution), the authority of ad hoc papal pronouncements from a bygone era cannot legitimately be opposed to the timeless, overarching theology of the Catholic Church. Vatican II, in its “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,” Gaudium et Spes 74, states that in defending civic rights against abuse of political authority, citizens can “adopt a variety of concrete solutions” in the structure or organization of a polity, “according to the character of different peoples and their historic development.”

In other words, historical changes might justify strategies against political oppression that an old papal encyclical found unjustifiable. Encyclicals are pastoral letters written to the Church for her good at a given time. When conditions change a later Pope may alter the guidance given to an earlier generation – as Pope Paul VI affirmed the possibility of change re the encyclicals of Pius XII.

In 1881, Pope Leo XIII wrote his encyclical, Diuturnum , during a time of rabid anti-clerical insurgencies. In this context (only ten years after the Paris Commune) we can best understand the Holy Father’s appeal for popular submission to political authority, and against joining insurrectionary movements. The peril in Aquinas’ qualifiers (quoted above) did indeed apply. By 1909, however, times had changed, and Leo’s successor, Pius X, chose to beatify Joan of Arc. The Maid of Orleans is hardly the archetype for an oppressed citizenry’s patient submissiveness.

About a decade later, Pope Benedict XV, selected the year 1920 for Joan’s canonization. The timing is significant. The Irish Revolution was in full surge against the government that had ruled Ireland for centuries. Also in 1920, the world was attentively watching the “Whites” battle the “Reds” during the Russian Civil War – armed insurrection on a colossal scale by Christians against pagan rulers. Apparently Benedict doubted whether the Irish or Russian insurgencies posed the level of peril referred to in Diuturnum . Even the day chosen to canonize St. Joan, May 16, 1920, carried a symbolism which could not have escaped the Vatican. Surely it was no coincidence that by the liturgical calendar then in use, May 16th happened to be the feast of St. John of Nepomuk , martyred during the investiture struggle with King Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia. Executed in 1393 for resisting the king’s orders, St John had stated that “only the one who rules properly deserves the name of king .” Combined with Benedict’s refusal to condemn either the Irish or Russian resistance movements, the declaration of sainthood for Jeanne d’Arc indicates that the papacy in 1920 took quite a different view of contemporary political conditions, and how citizens might rightly respond, than did Leo’s pronouncement four decades earlier.


writer, retired history teacher, practicing cradle Catholic, lecturer for Knights of Columbus, council 1379. Knight of the Month, October 2008, February 2009.

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  • Cooky642

    Thank you for this article. I’ve been struggling with this question for over a year, and can’t seem to come down firmly on one side or the other. This helps a great deal.

  • Warren Jewell

    Yes, times can change things. But, the ‘perils’ of Aquinas’ witness have gradients, too. Standing by as Christianity has for longer than the great majority of us have lived, we have been ‘acculturated’ into such as the nominally Catholic being divorced as much as the common American, and aborting as often as them. That is to say, whatever we imperiled had we resisted, we chose peril to our very eternal souls. Yet, and Washington, father of our ‘experiment into exceptionalism’ and proto-anti-king, himself would so recognize and honor, not even for our precious Constitution should any imperil his soul.

    And, just when will catechesis begin to catch up with and overcome our surrender and demeaning? Stunning as the thought is, it seems to me that we stand humiliated that we not be humble. I have read your offerings about the super convention to construct the super amendment. And, agree, and say “Hear! Hear! Bravo!” However, your pleading urgency and true recommendation to heart and soul requires a people actively grateful for their Baptism in faith over submission to secularism, and a catechesis to show us the way.

    Is America ready to imperil, just as a beginning, their grasp at mere materialism that our souls be humble here in this short life unto our eternal glory? Will we learn and realize and submit and act upon the truth that both the humility and the glory are only God’s to give, and not ours to so facilely ‘earn’? Even at secular levels, that untoward materialist grasp has so inundated just our currency that ‘credit’, the heart of what we now offer the world to buy from us, we may be but a couple or three generations from sinking citizen, country and Constitution into a serfdom from which only faith can triumph. And, in the face of that triumph that would have to be hard-won, our own polity is drifting toward offering us a legal and perhaps mandatory suitable supply of barbiturates to ‘end it all’ as a counter solution to faith. If we won’t hear of our secular peril, how will we be willing to imperil our ‘lives, fortunes and sacred honor’ to correct our ways first into humility and thence on to glory?

    A second glimpse at the problem to be overcome: you and I, sir, are avid students of history. Aquinas, et al, aside, how much has that influenced our very choice for humility, and our insights into our perils? And, how many about us are even tepid students of history?

  • joanspage

    I am a student of history myself and I have studied Jeheane the Maid. She is fascinating.

    Having said that, let me remind you that America has created a rich history of civil disobedience to combatg injustice and secure social change. This model works. It works because it is basede on selfless Christian love.

    It ended segregation here. It overthrew Marcos in the Phillipines. It freed Poland and ended the Soviet bloc.

    Civil disobedience was used by Thoreau, Gandhi, King, Dorothy Day and Cesar Chavez.

    My friends, you ought to remember that Americs had one bloody civil war before the genius of civil disobedience was realized and developed. We don’t need another.

  • levi78

    Well, this reply will seem trite and impish compared to the 3 replies before me, but I commend Robert Struble Jr for writing this and keeping us on our toes! Well written, well researched and well done good sir! The least I can do is pass this along to people who may not be aware of these discussions.

  • To Joanspage,
    Civil Disobedience is certainly preferable to armed insurrection, unless the tactics of Gandhi fail. Part II in this series should help clarify the issue you raise.

    What was it Dr. M.L. King said? ““If your opponent has a conscience, then follow Gandhi and nonviolence. But if your enemy has no conscience like Hitler, then follow (Dietrich) Bonhoeffer.”

    Like you, I’m hopeful that conscience will prevail.

  • Brian Besong


    It pains me to see you persist in manifest errors of doctrine, errors plain to all those who look to the bishops as their guides: shepherds for the flock of the Catholic faithful. Not one says what you say. It pains me not only to see you err, but to see you present your dangerously radical theological opinions as the teaching of the Church, misleading those who desire to lead lives right with Christ. I have confronted you with the two or three witnesses of Popes Pius and Leo. I do not desire to write your bishop, but you are giving the Church scandalous witness by suggesting violence against legitimate rulers is permissible when in fact it is a grave offense to God. I urge you as my brother in Christ to take back your position, or else heavily qualify it as merely the private theological opinion of a individual Catholic (not the position of the Church). Else, I must proceed in fraternal correction by contacting your superior in the faith, the Most Reverend Archbishop Brunett, placing the matter in his hands and out of mine.

  • Brian,
    It’s a little surprising that you should go ad hominem on this matter, rather than respond to my points about Aquinas, St. Joan, and, etc. Is this the way the Philosophy Dept. operates at Purdue?

    In my experience, Archbishop Brunett is a fair man. Go right ahead, sir.

  • theshahids

    The reality is that I feel we have an obligation to peacably resist (not by force) when our government takes our money and uses it for an absolute evil (like abortion). By not confronting the government with the truth and peaceful resistance, we are guilty of cooperating with evil. Period.

  • Cooky642

    Brian, YOU are in error, in your agrument, in assuming that the current government is “legitimate”. There is nothing “legitimate” about it. It was put into power on lies and deception, and it remains in power on lies and deception. The fact that some 52% of voters believed those lies and deceptions doesn’t make them any less lies and deception. In my opinion, an amendment to the Constitution is a far longer shot than civil disobedience. Until more people wake up to the actual threat from this government to our way of life, we have an obligation to do what we can. (Tip: next time you object, try citing FACTS instead of feelings!)

  • bullockfamily2003

    Mr. Besong,
    You urge a fellow historian to qualify his work as “merely the private theological opinion of a individual Catholic (not the position of the Church).”

    I would guess you mean the same as Sister Helen Prejean does with the death penalty, or Father McBrien does with his work at Notre Dame.

    And since Mr. Strubble is quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, it follows that you must also consider his words to be “”merely the private theological opinion of a individual Catholic (not the position of the Church).”

    So my question is, who exactly do you consider to be a legitimate author of Church Doctrine?

  • Brian Besong

    Mr. Struble,

    All of the arguments repeated in this article were debunked in the comments section of your last article. The point that we keep returning to is this: you have no clear theological principles that suggest that this nation’s government can be violently resisted. St. Thomas Aquinas’ point about “tyranny” is inconsequential, as he never specified what he meant by tyranny: Stalinist Russia, perhaps, or something less violently evil? We simply do not know.

    The Catechism itself seems to be the greatest threat to your position, as the conditions for forceful resistance not only have not been met, but do not look to be met within many years (if at all). Encouraging angry Catholics to think about violence against lawful rulers scandalizes the Church, encouraging grave sin under the pretense of righteousness. Please stop doing this. Encourage the faithful to follow instead the direction of the Bishops, *not one of whom* has suggesting anything like what you now say. Giving the opposite advice is serious sin, and a sin that causes damage to the faithful insofar as they are being misled by you to think that they owe anything less than respect and esteem to their lawful rulers. Follow the Bishops, and encourage everyone else to do the same.

  • Mary Kochan

    Brian, Mr. Struble is not advocating violence, but rather peaceful resistance in the form of a constitutional convention. He is advocating this in order to prevent a situation from developing that would require opposition in the face of violence.

  • Brian,
    Stop “… encouraging angry Catholics to think….” Hmmm.

    Actually, what I do encourage is an Article V Convention, as authorized by the Constitution. I can sort of understand your view (though I will disagree until my dying day) that the Founding Fathers were out of step with God when they advocated the American Revolution.

    What you think about my main point, however, namely looking to the convention option, is still a mystery. In all the commentaries you’ve written, you’ve never addressed this primary thesis.

  • Brian Besong

    Mary, I am not sure how you can say this when Mr. Struble has directly espoused physical violence in explicit terms, and generally speaks about “resistance” ambiguously, which could lead quite easily to thinking he is again advocating violence or open to it (even though explicit calls to violence are not repeated often). His online book, in chapter 5, develops this theme in great detail – even going so far as to highlight particular military targets and to detail which weapons ought to be used. He very much advocates violence as a “plan B” if his convention idea fails to do what he wants. Details like this seem to be central when Catholic Exchange seeks to clear which articles get published and which do not. to the Sword.htm

    Quotes from this chapter:

    “With the formal transition to Plan B, however, armed insurgency will come under the authority of the intracontinental congress – an interim government to be established as an alternative power center competing against the postmodernist regime. […] Wireless modems can be accessed clandestinely. Instant communication will be an invaluable tool for coordination of the counterrevolution, and to elude the long tentacles of the BHS, FBI, CIA, BATF, and local police.”

    “When we converge on a target we need to attack it with devastating force and then retreat with all deliberate speed. The French resistance gave the Nazi war machine fits as long as they did not squander French manpower in pitched battles against superior German firepower.”

    “To make an escape after a strike, it will be invaluable to have anti-aircraft weapons as a defense against helicopters. Shoulder-fired versions might be securable by raiding armories here, and/or by importing them from abroad. ”

    “An urban warfare situation in the U.S. would be more difficult militarily from the regime’s standpoint. […] Because there is no hope that ItaCC might match the regime’s air power, let our battlefields of choice be urban rather than rural, unless the countryside is well forested as cover against surveillance from manned aircraft, drones and spy satellites.”

    “These interim attacks will be short-term in results, as it will take a consolidated and prolonged exercise of power [like that of the TAsC] to twist, turn and wrench the triangle right side up again. […] Meanwhile let the intracontinental congress target the three components of the triangle — the media, the entertainment industry, and the paganized public schools — with a severity proportional to their treason.”

    “If the intracontinental congress posts a reward for, shall we say, an National Education Association [NEA] union official who wants to indoctrinate America’s children in the proposition that the traditional family is no better than same-sex unions, or encouraging schoolchildren to experiment with homosexuality, that official will have fair warning via the wanted-dead-or-alive posters. The miscreant would be well advised to surrender to agents of the intracontinental congress, rather than deal with bounty hunters.”

    “Considerations of Christian charity and integrity notwithstanding, on-the-spot forewarnings may sometimes be so risky as to be foolhardy, in which situations the only practical course may be for the intracontinental congress to issue summons for the surrender of designated adherents to the regime. If the renegades in question refuse to give themselves up for trial by the designated date, say 30 days after the warrant for arrest, then our authorities can issue wanted-dead-or-alive posters, including rewards as incentives. In such cases, failure to surrender would authorize bounty hunters, much as the continental congress authorized privateers to prey on British shipping during the Revolution. It is quite likely that bounty hunters would prefer to work as snipers than take the risk of making arrests.”

    The details go on in great detail. The charge that Mr. Struble advocates violence is not one I make in violation of Christian charity; rather it is a charge I take in due seriousness of the sins being advocated. Calling Christians to violently revolt upon the failure of this constitutional congress idea is to call them into grave sin. Our government is legitimate, as difficult as that idea is for many. As such, it deserves our respect, honor and esteem if we operate as conscientious Catholics.

  • Mary Kochan

    If there was a convention and the constitution was legally amended and the holders of power refused to submit to the law (which is the scenario I understand Struble to be contemplating) what would you advise? See, you are taking this out of the context in which he puts it, which is an illegal usurpation of power in the US. To contemplate how constitutional authority might deal with that, is not the same as advocating violent overthrow of a legitimate government and Struble is advocating using the legally prescribed — and non-violent — remedy right now.

  • Brian Besong

    This is not the only scenario in which Mr. Struble has advocated violence. In fact, he seems to have suggested that violence is employable even if no constitutional convention can be established, as long as some attempt is made to get a constitutional convention off the ground. That could mean that civil war is, according to him, acceptable in the next two months (or less). It could mean today. Without further clarification on what he means, this is speculation. Yet, it is speculation with extraordinary significance, as his calls to violence may even now constitute a violation of the law (a law in accordance with natural law, I might add) and advocacy of mortal sin. The detail he provides concerning his coup attempt suggests this is a “plan B” he has spent considerable time thinking about, which is not often the case if someone thinks it will never come to fruition (or is incredibly unlikely to come to fruition).

  • roth4kofc

    Mr. Besong-
    Lighten up. Check the mote in your own eyes before you go tattling on Mr. Struble to the Archbishop.
    Mr. Struble is just reiterating historical precedent through hypothesis. Besides, the Brits were the legitimate government that the founding fathers threw out- Further, Thomas Jefferson once wrote ” The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants”.
    From Ecclesiastes we are told that to every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under Heaven… A time of war and a time of peace.
    In other words, when the goin’ gets rough, praise the Lord and pass the ammo.


    I am certainly no theoligian and do not possess the academic knowledge that both Mr.Struble and Besong exhibit. However, I firmly believe that this nation was founded upon Judeo-Christian values and that our relationship to and with God, as our Creator and ultimate Authority trumps the institutions that we as men and women have put in place to govern us. This becomes more evident and clear when those forms of government become corrupted and in fact act in opposition to the founding principles-namely all power and legitamacy for governing come from God and are intertwined with teh core values of Christianity. John Quincy Adams stated that the American Revolution was “connected in one indissoluble bond, principles of civil government to the principles of Christianity”. Our present government (all parties-not just one person) is acting in a manner through our laws and actions to dissole this bond. Therefore, is it a legitimate government anymore in the eyes of our Creator-the One whom as His creatures we owe complete allegiance to? It appears to mme that the discussion taking place here is about tactics around the legitamacy of our government when in my eyes, it is alreday not legitament. So what do we do? I think we first need to look toward ourselves-each of us needs to address how we may have contributed to wher we are. Maybe we need to repent and renew ousrselves and families first-be better example of good Christians. I know this might be polyannish-but it is all that is in my control. This is a time for discernment. Renewing our Nation can only come through respect of the Commandments and remembering the bond that was indissolubly established when our Nation was founded between its’ people and their Creator God.

  • Roth4KofC,

    You are right, the Bible indicates “a time for war and a time for peace.” This passage on seasons might well be interpreted also as “a time for ballots and a time for bullets.”

    As I’ve indicated in the book, Treatise on Twelve Lights (from which Brian Besong quotes above in his comment) the day might unfortunately come when we have to take up arms, or as Aquinas puts it, “have recourse to the sword.” Manifestly, sir, the season for the sword has NOT arrived. Nor, I’m absolutely convinced, will it ever arrive in accordance with God’s expectations until we fulfill all five conditions indicated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2243).

    Without the Lord’s blessing on armed insurrection, it would also surely be a loser, just as the American revolt against the mighty British Empire of the 18th century would have failed miserably without the interposition of Divine Providence. The continental congress knew that very well, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence with their “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.” They knew that everything depended upon Almighty God in an enterprise that was, by man’s measure, at best doubtful and at worst impossible.

    In our own day, one of the five conditions for armed resistance is clearly unfulfilled, namely the necessity of exhausting all other options. Brian does me a real disservice in suggesting that I think this condition can be fulfilled in two months or less by making a pro forma attempt at the Article V Convention, and then proceeding with Plan B. He supposes, I guess, that my idea is to exploit as a pretext the vehicle provided by the Framers of the Constitution, and then to trick the omniscient God into blessing a premature enterprise.

    On the contrary, only a concerted attempt to employ the convention option, the political vehicle provided by the Framers, will be in tune with the spirit of the written Constitution. The Framers’ vehicle is not easy to get started up, and it will surely take years to see whether or not we can make it proceed as intended. How many years? I believe God will help prayerful citizens to know when and if we have driven Article V into the ground.

    At the present time this whole concept is little more than a free, online book that needs funding whereby to be widely advertised. The book’s fourth chapter proposes that after the concept is disseminated throughout the country, we kick off a campaign for a convention on behalf of one arch-amendment, and that a good place to start campaigning would be in one of the nine indirect referendum states. After three to seven years (says chapter five), campaigners should take another look. Such a campaign has not even begun yet, much less been exhausted.

    Yes, brother roth4kofc, you can certainly praise the Lord. And you don’t have to disarm. But this is no time to pass the ammunition.

  • Part 2 in the “Insurgency 101” series is at